Roasted, not burned
India ranks sixth in exporters of coffee to the world. It has a deep-rooted history of drinking filter coffee, and estates all over. Yet, the culture of coffee drinking is limited to a consumer chain buying packaged powder and adding it to boiled milk. The understanding of coffee beans, roasts, and even self-grinds is what even the most passionate Indian aficionados lack. There is a science to it, relevant only to professionals, pedants and hipsters. However, to enjoy the beverage at different times of the day and in different forms makes a more enjoyable cup for a passionate drinker. Like any other city, Pune also has an endless number of global cafés, but only a few gourmet-styled kitchens roast their own. Here’s the swing.
Coffee Jar by Cini Baig
This café is the oldest in Pune to make its own blends. Owner Cini Baig from Delhi was a marketing student in the UK who came back and told his father that he wanted to become a Barista. His father’s agonised reply to Cini’s dismay was, “You want to sell tea?” Cini is 42 today and this story dates back to an India which didn’t think beyond Nescafé. Cini left Delhi and went to the US to work in the coffee industry. He came back from his informal education in the science, and started Coffee Jar.
Since his first day as a Barista, Cini has been passionate about roasted beans from various Southern and Eastern estates. He has held seminars on coffee beans, different types of roasts, flavours, profiles and so on. He’s tried to educate every customer about brews. It is through this effort over a decade that his customers have now started asking for specific blends.
Cini has two blends at Coffe Jar. One of them is the Espresso, which is a 100% roast. This means that the beans have been roasted to their optimum. If they are roasted more, they’ll burn. Espresso roasts are lighter than the other blend that he serves, which is called a French Press, also termed Full City. It is a medium-dark roast and where the seed remains intact and has retained moisture even if the bean is cracked open. It is also a little bitter and has a heavy body to it. He says the problem with coffee chains is that they serve coffee which is not freshly roasted. This is a strategy which makes the consumer have more. “A good cup would never make you feel like you want to have more”, he remarks.
Coffee Jar changes its blends every two months and therein lies its success. The blend is the talisman of any barista. He describes, “I try to make my blends as complex as I can. That way, no one can figure out what kind of blends I have used and in what quantity. Otherwise, committed cuppers can figure out simpler blends from the aroma itself.” Cini prefers to decide his roasts based on the time for which they have been roasted. This is because each second compliments the profile of the bean. He also gets his coffee beans grown at altitudes higher than 4,500 feet,which he believes is good for quality.
Cini is zealous and meticulous about coffee, a drink many would consider routine. He describes the hardwork and struggle a farmer has to go through to grow good beans, pointing out how one tree provides only a kilo every year. He says, “We need to do justice to the beans. For me, this is a person.”
Chef Deepu lived in South America for ten years for reasons unrelated to the culinary arts. His business interests didn’t pan out, and he started working as a waiter at his friend’s restaurant called ‘Dublin’ in Colombia. Dublin was about to shut down when he bought it and opened his own restaurant in its place, called Soul of India. He had three branches set up in the country, before he returned India.
Café Mestizo is a four-month old café in Balewadi High Street owned by him and two of his childhood friends, Dheeren and Rajev. They serve gourmet teas, freshly-made sandwiches and freshly-brewed coffee. He also has his own food show on the Living Foodz channel. Boat Club road will see the second branch of Café Mestizo soon. The coffee beans that he procures are unpolished and free of chemicals. He gets them roasted directly at his unit in Chikmagalur. Of the two blends that the café serves, one is a medium-low roast composed of 100% Arabica, while the other is a medium-high Arabica roast mixed with 20% Robusta beans. The Robusta is added to give a partially bitter flavour to the coffees which have milk in them, as the milk tends to overpower the coffee.
His concern is similar to that of Cini’s. The idea that Indians casually add boiling milk to the powder really troubles him. The reason why various beans are roasted at different settings is to ensure that they develop the required profiles. He humorously observes, “what is the first thing that you think of when someone tells you that they had great coffee today? They mean more powder!” It is not that more coffee powder won’t make any difference, but that is probably the last factor for strength. “If you add boiling milk to packaged coffee, which was once roasted long back and sold to you after being ground in factories, you burn the coffee itself”, he remarks.
Classic Rock Coffee Co.
Classic Rock Coffee Co. is not gourmet. It is an American coffee brand. But what sets it apart is that unlike Starbucks and Café Coffee Day, this one doesn’t serve standardised coffee. They have their own live coffee roasting units. The Kalyani Nagar outlet in Pune — the first in India — follows the same tradition. A spectacular coffee roaster sits grabbing centre space in the café. Classic Rock Coffee Co. is headed by businessman Avinash Agarwal. Avinash is not a coffee aficionado, but he has been a DJ for the past seven years, and an investor. Unlike the commonly perceived image that cafés have soft music, yellow lights and long conversations, the chain combines coffee with rock music, which somehow fits Avinash.
Classic Rock roasts its beans every three days before serving, to let the profile-stealing gases escape. The outlet serves single-origin coffee brought in from Kerala and the beans are roasted till they achieve a caramel taste; bitter or burnt is not their profile. For this reason, their brews are not dark, and their espressos are also more ‘palatable’. For milk-based coffees, the amount of espresso used is 1.5% more than industry standards.
Classic Rock is not just a café. It is a restaurant as well as a bar. The reason for this unusual setup is to keep the café alive at night. It has gigs and festivals every now and then. It doesn’t matter that the coffee sales are only 10–15% of the total revenue. The idea is to make good coffee and introduce good cupping culture among people, while being a global chain.
The bar also sells six types of coffee cocktails and a few coffee shots, similar to alcohol shots. This is just the beginning for Classic Rock Coffee Co. as a global chain of gourmet-style coffee, entering India.
Originally published on The Golden Sparrow